BULAWAYO - Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko has been hauled before the courts by villagers in Tshayile in Bubi, Matabeleland North, who are seeking to block the 76-year-old diplomat from extending the boundaries of his Mzohluzo Farm into their land.
The Financial Gazette reported that 68 villagers from Tshayile, led by Vusa Ncube, filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court in the second city on January 24, pleading with the bench to declare the actions of the top Zanu-PF politician, unlawful.
In the application, Mphoko and the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora, are cited as the first and second respondents, respectively.
At the time of going to print, both respondents were yet to enter an appearance to defend the matter.
The dispute is yet another clear example of the chaos that has tainted the country's agrarian reforms, initiated by former liberation war fighters in 2000.
In an desperate attempt to correct past historical imbalances, government expropriated large swathes of land from former white commercial farmers who numbered less than 4 000 without compensation and distributed the resource among about 300 000 blacks. Much of the land was, however, allocated to inexperienced indigenous farmers who did not have the financial wherewithal to fully utilise the soil.
In the end, production nosedived, resulting in the country losing its breadbasket status. In fact, in the farming seasons preceding the chaotic land reforms, it became the norm for the country to take its begging bowl around all corners of the world, looking for either food handouts or grain imports to feed its people.
Another blemish that has characterised the agrarian reforms are disputes among blacks over ownership of the seized farms, amid double allocations of properties incidents of multiple farm ownerships and greed.
In the latest case, Mphoko is being accused of plotting to evict villagers from part of Shilloh Farm to enable him to extend his farm's boundary into an area they have occupied for nearly two decades.
Mphoko's farm is in Umguza District, while Tshayile Farm is in Bubi. The land in dispute lies along the two districts' boundary.
In the papers filed by lawyers Webb, Low and Barry Legal Practitioners, the villagers are accusing the Vice President of unilaterally seeking to occupy the land they occupied at the beginning of the 2000 land reform programme. They said despite co-existing peacefully with Mphoko for the past 16 years, he has, however, "forcefully interfered with the applicants' peaceful and undisturbed occupation of their property by destroying the original boundary and extending the boundary into applicants' homesteads…"
The court papers further assert that the Vice President's reported plan to expand his property into Shilloh Farm would result in the villagers losing Tshayile Primary School, farming and grazing lands, their only borehole and nutritional garden.
"Most importantly, first respondent has not shown me or any of the Applicants any lawful authority or court order or writ of execution sanctioning the extension of his farm boundary and or forcible acquisition of our property. First respondent's conduct is clearly an affront to the provisions of Section 74 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. It is unlawful as respondents have taken the law into their hands," the court papers partly read.
Section 74 of the Constitution reads: "No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances."
The villagers, who claim that they were allocated the land they are currently occupying by the Ministry of Lands, insist that they settled on the disputed piece of land long after Mphoko had occupied his Mzohluzo Farm.
"To my best knowledge our homesteads, Tshayile Primary School, a community garden and borehole, farming and grazing land have never been within his boundaries," said Ncube in an interview with the Financial Gazette.
Ncube said Mphoko, through his farm manager, Dumisani Ndlovu, ordered them to destroy their homesteads and vacate the area without any consultation.
"The VP's employees have started putting up a fence and clearing land as well as the boundaries to expand his farm in violation of our rights of occupation. He has forcibly interfered with our peaceful and undisturbed occupation of our property by destroying the original boundary fence and extending it into our homesteads," he said.
Efforts to get in touch with Mphoko, through his personal assistant, Phoede Moyo, proved futile as calls to her mobile phone were not answered.
Also, efforts to reach Lands Minister, Mombeshora yielded no results with calls to his mobile phone not being answered.
The villagers, mostly peasant farmers, who largely depend on livestock and subsistence farming for survival, told the court that their matter was urgent because they would suffer "irreparable loss and prejudice as applicants would have lost their property as first respondent is demolishing and forcibly acquiring applicant's land".
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